Ravenwood, Chapter 9 [fiction]

Alice Lake:

Alice Lake and Myers Ridge
Alice Lake

Alice Lake and its community is a scenic area of Ravenwood. It once held the stature of being its own municipality, complete with a town hall and post office. It became a popular spot for vacationers (many from Pittsburgh) in the 1920s and became part of Ravenwood in 1957, making Ravenwood approximately two and one-half miles wide (east to west) by four and one-half miles long (north to south).

Alice Lake is a spring fed glacier-made lake one-half mile wide and a little more than one mile long, 8 acres, and with an average depth of 26 feet along a kettle bottom with holes as deep as 50+ feet. Surrounded by approximately 750 private homes and cottages, the lake is picturesque with its quaint cottages and beautiful homes. Visitors can rent a room anytime at Richard and Melissa Bay’s Bed & Breakfast—a charming and spacious Folk Victorian home. They can tour the Alice Myers Museum—a colorful Gothic Revival House—every Tuesday through Saturday and acquaint themselves with the lake’s namesake. They can browse Ellen Waverly’s art gallery and buy excellent local artwork. And they can shop nearly every day at the nineteen specialty gift shops, which sells a mix of country and Victorian knickknacks not found in city chain-stores. Antiques are also a specialty, and Johnson’s Antiques and Auction is less than a mile away at downtown Ravenwood.

My fictitious Pennsylvania Fish Commission maintains the lake and its two public boat launches. When I first created Ravenwood, the lake was used recreationally for swimming and fishing only; there were no horse-powered boats. Now, a 10 horsepower boat is the limit. And now, my characters can rent pontoons, paddle boats or canoes at Maguire’s Boating, Fishing and Hunting, which is open year-round.

For the angler, the Fish Commission stocks Alice Lake with pan fish, bluegill, perch, sunfish, walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, and small and large mouth bass. For the hunter, many public game lands border the area. In the winter, Alice Lake is widely used for ice fishing. Although many of the roads that wind around the lake are dirt or gravel, the State maintains them well. Other winter activities include snowmobiling sponsored by the lake park’s Recreation Hall. And the entertainment hall has a 24-lane bowling alley and a heated indoor swimming pool.

During the summer, there are fishing contests and kayaking, sailing and canoe rowing races on the lake, and go-cart racing and miniature golf at the Recreation Hall. City council displays a fireworks show on the lake every Fourth of July.

Tourists and locals can sip wine coolers and dip lobster in drawn butter on the patio at the Mill Pond Restaurant at the south side of the lake while kids can swim and slide down the fabulous water slide into the lake. Or they and their families can have delicious homemade and hand stretched pizza, subs, and calzones any day of the year at Connie’s Pizzeria.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are inexpensive pleasures at The Roundhouse. Once the lake’s roller rink, it became a restaurant and dining hall after fire nearly destroyed the building in 1966. The Roundhouse hosts dances and live music every Saturday night from June until the end of September.

The south side of Alice Lake comprises an Amish community, so it is common to see Amish buggies traveling the lake roads no matter the time of year.

More about Ravenwood is in the works. I promise.

Ravenwood, Chapter 8 [fiction]

Halloween Tales, Part 2:

“I saw his ghost too,” Vree said. “Back in July, Evan and I—” she turned to me, “Evan’s uncle married my Aunt Addi in June—we were hiking along the cliffs when a sudden rainstorm hit. We found shelter in a nearby cave no bigger than a broom closet. Lightning threw erratic patches of light across the stony interior, and in between darkness and light, we saw Norman Myers’s ghost standing at the entrance for a moment. The ghost pointed at our feet before it vanished. When we looked down, we found a chunk of gold the size of a softball. It had the initials NWM carved into it, something miners did to mark their property.”

“Norman Wesley Myers,” Dave said. He pulled his wallet from his back pocket and took out a photograph of a rock that looked like the size of a large man’s fist. I could only believe the initials I saw stood for the full name of the man whose ghost haunted Myers Ridge.

“There was another time, Vree said, “when my mom’s friend Brian Johnson was with his wife Maria, photographing nature on the west side of Myers Ridge. Both are scenic photographers who enjoy taking pictures of the ridge’s rock formations. They worked like crazy that day, trying to get as many good contrast shots as possible before sundown.

“By nightfall, they had their tent up and a fire going. They ate some beans and franks and slept under the stars. Then around two-thirty in the morning, Brian awoke and found Maria gone. He called for her, but she didn’t answer, so he took his lantern and searched for her.

“He looked past some trees and saw a human’s shadowy figure walking near an outcropping of rock. The figure stopped and looked at Brian, then vanished into a wall of rock. Brian knew he had just seen a ghost and he wondered if it was Norman Myers. He also wondered if Maria was there. He poked around and found a narrow entrance in the mound of rock. He said a quick prayer and crawled inside, taking along his lantern, which made crawling slow and tiring. But soon he crawled out into a tall and cold gallery of limestone. Sudden movement caused him to turn and stare into the face of Norman Myers. He almost screamed, but Norman vanished and the flame in Brian’s lantern flickered and almost went out. He steadied the lantern and collected his wits while he waited for his heart rate to return to normal. That’s when he saw Maria farther inside, kneeling at the bones of a human skeleton. Strange green light glowed from the bones and Maria told him that she had awoken to relieve her bladder. Then she saw Norman’s ghost and followed it into the cave where he told her that a witch had cursed him to become wealthy, and that the curse caused him to desire more and more wealth until madness consumed him and he perished inside Myers Ridge.

“She claims Norman seeks to find the witch and end her life, which will put his spirit to rest.”

Vree’s story made me shiver.

We told more ghost stories—except for Amy, who said they were dumb and pointless—until it was time for me to leave.

That night in bed, Vree’s unsettling tale about Norman Myers’s ghost being a vengeful spirit looking for the witch who cursed him made me wonder what sort of horrible death he had suffered. I could only imagine, though I hesitated doing so, afraid it would give me bad dreams.

Oddly, though, I slept fine.

More Ravenwood stories coming soon.

Ravenwood, Chapter 6 [fiction]

The Game:

I love playing and watching baseball games. I was on my high school’s baseball team for four years, didn’t see much action, so it was more fun playing Pony League in the summer (until I became too old) and sandlot ball with my friends. We also played softball for a local church team. Vree and Dave played softball for their local church team too and they invited me to watch a game.

I arrived late—chores, of course—and seated myself at the top row of the bleachers behind home plate and a few feet to the left of Amy Everly, Dave’s younger sister. She had curly brown hair that framed an oval, soft face. During the game, she clapped her small, delicate hands while she cheered her brother and cousin on.

Amy

“Who’s winning?” I asked her.

She stopped cheering and addressed me with a cool look. “Bottom of the seventh,” she said. “Nazarenes are up five to four.” She then told me that Johnny Blake, the Nazarenes’ pitcher, had been throwing change-ups and heated fisticuff strikes all game long and was still striking out batters

I thanked her and cheered for Vree and Dave’s team, New Gospel, to win.

Dave began the final half-inning by fouling the first pitch from Johnny Blake. I admired Blake’s determination to win, but it was Dave’s determination I admired more.

He fouled the second pitch straight back, which cleared the backstop and practically landed in my lap. I gave the ball to Amy.

“For you, mademoiselle,” I said when I handed it to her.

She screwed up her nose, threw the ball back onto the field, and slid away from me, putting several feet of space between us.

The New Gospel players inside the dugout at the first base side of the field, all called for Dave to hit the ball. For a skinny guy, he had broad shoulders and muscular forearms, which I figured gave him an excellent chance to clout a four-bagger and tie the game.

Blake’s next pitch came in low at Dave’s knees and dropped before it reached home plate. Dave swung a windmill cut at the ball and missed it by the proverbial baseball mile. The ball scooted under the catcher and umpire and zipped straight to the backstop. Dave, aware of his mistake, never hesitated. He raced to first base as the catcher caught up with the ball and threw to first base. The speedy Dave Everly beat the throw.

Vree headed to the batter’s box.

“Just make contact,” Amy yelled.

“She’s no hitter,” the third baseman yelled out to his teammates. Then to Blake, “Strike her out.”

Vree poised herself well at the plate and hit the first pitch—wham, bam—right into the third baseman’s glove. In a matter of a second, she had lined out. The next batter grounded into a double play: 6 to 4 to 3. The teams met at home plate in a game ending ritual of touching hands and saying “Good game” to one another.

Amy stood up and prepared to leave. I introduced myself. She scowled at my outstretched hand, did a quick about-face, and sprinted down the bleachers.

“Pleasure to meet you, anyway,” I said to her fleeing backside. Then, moments later, I, too, headed down the bleachers.

More to come.

Ravenwood, Chapter 5 [fiction]

The Gold Hunt, Part 2:

Dave

Dave Everly, Vree’s cousin, was a year older than Vree and me. And according to the blue T-shirt he wore, his school may have been Ridgewood High, home of the Fighting Eagles. I didn’t ask.

He had thick, dark brown hair, bright, greenish blue eyes, and was scrawnier and an inch taller than me.

After we exchanged pleasantries in his driveway, we rode the blacktopped Ridge Road almost a mile before we ditched our bikes in a field of tall grass and followed a well-traveled deer path to a swampy outcropping along the eastern edge of Myers Ridge. Vree, our leader, put up her right hand for us to stop.

“This is where I spotted gold the other day,” she said. “Come on.”

Dave and I followed until we stood at the edge of a cliff. Twenty feet below us, water trickled from the hillside, fell, splattered on rock farther down, and fell again to Alice Lake far below.

“You spotted gold where?” I asked, peering over the edge.

“Trust me,” Vree said. She got busy and helped Dave with the rope she had brought. She tied her end to a young hornbeam tree, which some of my relatives call ironwood. Then Dave harnessed his end to Vree and lowered her to where water exited the side of Myers Ridge. She dug around at the wet ground, pulled up rocks, examined them closely, and tossed them away. After ten minutes, the process became boring to watch, so I returned to the hornbeam tree to make sure Vree’s knot still held. It did.

A red squirrel inspected the inedible raw leaves of a small patch of skunk cabbage past the tree where the ground turned swampy and muddy. It was likely looking for the plants’ hard, pea-sized seeds to carry back to its nest. That’s when Dave called me back.

We hoisted a grinning Vree to us and she proudly displayed a three-inch chunk of bright yellow rock. It was cold and heavy when I held it.

“Think there’s more?” Dave asked. His eyes were wide as he looked at the gold, then down at the cliff and back at the gold.

Vree shrugged and blew into her hands. “I should have brought gloves,” she said before taking the rock away from me.

“What are you going to do with it?” Dave asked.

Vree shrugged again. “Melt it, maybe, and make a bracelet. I’ve been reading up on how to make jewelry.”

“We should go down there tomorrow and look for more,” Dave said.

Vree sighed. “I have a dentist appointment in the morning and then shopping at the mall with my mom. We’d only have the evening to look for more.”

“How about this weekend?” I asked. “We could even check the mines you told me about.”

Dave’s eyes widened. “Are you crazy? Some of those mines have caved in. And they’re infested with rattlesnakes.”

Cliffs at Myers Ridge during autumn
Cliffs next to Alice Lake in summer

“I’m not saying we go in the mines. I’m saying that the ground outside may have bits of gold that someone may have dropped.”

“I don’t know,” Vree said. “Some of the underground mines have caused sinkholes where the ground collapsed. Those things are just as dangerous as the mines.” She looked up at the evening sky. “It’s getting late. I have to get home. What’s your phone number, Steve? I’ll call you and we’ll discuss it.”

“I don’t remember,” I lied. “But I’ll be in town this weekend.”

We decided to meet at noon on Saturday at Dave’s driveway. Then we headed back. We had gone more than a quarter mile, perhaps 600 yards, when the flash of light caught out attention. It was sunlight reflecting off the chrome of a green sedan off in a field to our left. We stopped.

“That’s an abandoned road to one of the mines,” Dave said.

A field of teasels, wild grasses and ragweed hid the road, but a vehicle had obviously driven on it recently since the tires had flattened the grass.

“My Spidey sense is tingling,” Vree said. I chuckled at the comic book reference, and then stopped short when I saw the car back up to turn around.

“Hit the deck,” Vree shouted. We dove for cover among daisy fleabane and a large clump of purple and yellow New England Astor. I pressed myself close to the ground and hoped the handlebar of my borrowed bike would go unnoticed by whoever was inside that car.

The green sedan reached Ridge Road and stopped. We were ten yards away. Had the driver seen us? I kept still, even when a horsefly bit one of my sweaty arms and sucked my blood for what seemed like several minutes before the car turned onto the road and drove away.

I unclenched my jaw and let out a groan before I slapped at the murderous fly. Vree scrambled down the overgrown road, heading toward the mine. Dave and I followed and caught up to her at the mouth of the cave, which someone had boarded up with old barn wood planks. We pulled the boards away and Vree and I entered a musty smelling cavern.

“Snakes,” Dave said behind me.

I froze. “Where?”

“I’m just saying there could be rattlers,” he said, pushing past me. “Watch your step.”

The mine changed quickly to cool dampness and became darker the farther we went. We passed an old rail cart covered with empty burlap sacks.

A thought came to me that we should look inside the cart. Then, as though she had read my mind, Vree ran to it and pulled away the sacks.

We found 16-year-old Laurie Burnett bound and gagged inside. She seemed okay and was very relieved and thankful to be free. She was also very angry at the ordeal her captors had put her through, and she used some naughty words to describe them to us while we led her back to Dave’s house.

A day later, the police caught the two criminals, who turned out to be Emergency Medical Technicians at New Cambridge Hospital where Laurie’s dad was a surgeon. That Saturday, he drove to Dave’s house and rewarded Vree, Dave and I with one hundred dollars each. I split my money with Vree and Dave before we went looking for more gold.

We never found any.

More Ravenwood stories coming soon.